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The Enduring Consequences of Unemployment
March 29, 2012 10:54 AM   Subscribe

The Enduring Consequences of Unemployment. It is perhaps no surprise that "....workers who lost jobs during the recession of the early 1980s were making 20 percent less than their peers two decades later." Or that unemployment is also bad for your health.... "lA worker laid off at age 40 could expect to die at least a year sooner than his peers." What frames the issue starkly though is that unemployed people gradually lost the ability to read.

"If a person had stronger reading skills than 30 percent of Swedes when they lost their job, one year later their skills were stronger than just 25 percent of Swedes. Their reading comprehension score dropped by about five percentiles."

Graphs of U.S. Unemployment. Check out in particular the first graph which compares the current recession against previous post-WWII recessions. And the seventh and eighth graphs that shows the increase in long term unemployed and their educational levels.
posted by storybored (83 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
And it seems to have deafened the ears of those who could have done something about it. Or at least it looks like it.
posted by tommasz at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to see it all spelled out this way, but not too surprising. I was laid off three years ago at age 50. I'm still unemployed and so far it has cost me my house, my marriage, and all my savings. I am losing the will to live.
posted by DaddyNewt at 11:12 AM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


In the future we won't have jobs will just sit about while being waited on by robot servants. Today blind people can be driven around by robot chauffeurs, how long will it be before we have robot chefs, gardeners, nannies and butlers?

You go back to prior to the great depression, I think something like 30% of the population worked on farms, producing the food we all needed to eat. Now it's something like 2%. And prior to the 20th century the number was probably even higher.

So, instead of working to produce the things that all humanity needed people worked to provide the things that all humanity wanted But what happens when we simply no longer need that much actual human labor to produce all the things that we want?

If you can produce everything that everyone needs and wants with only, say 5% of the population, where are "jobs" going to come from? What are people going to do with their time?
posted by delmoi at 11:16 AM on March 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Of course, unemployment's not so bad for you, if you don't have to work.

Perhaps more effort should be expended on how people without much in life can create a relatively independent, leisured life without all the daily grind.
posted by markkraft at 11:17 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I keep trying to write a short farce in which everybody has to compete, from the day they are born, for the Last Job In America, but it's too weird and too much for me to contemplate.
posted by gauche at 11:19 AM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


DaddyNewt: "It's interesting to see it all spelled out this way, but not too surprising. I was laid off three years ago at age 50. I'm still unemployed and so far it has cost me my house, my marriage, and all my savings. I am losing the will to live."

My father was laid off around the same age. I always believed it was age related. It was at least because he made too much money. The sad thing is he made the company money with his inventions. He never worked in the same capacity again, and his last job was a groundskeeper for a cemetery. He now lives with us, he can't work anymore due to COPD among other things. Our kids keep him occupied now.
posted by narcoleptic at 11:20 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


We're in Month 16 of my wife's unemployment, and it's hands-down the hardest thing we've ever dealt with. Honestly, the enormity of it defies any attempt to even describe it. It's changing me in ways I don't think I'll really fully comprehend for years; I know it's changing her immensely, too. I guess I like to believe the article's bit about reduced life expectancy doesn't apply to her/us, but that's just raw optimism.

I know this for sure: I finally understand why my grandfather never, ever got out of his Depression-era spending habits.
posted by COBRA! at 11:26 AM on March 29, 2012 [17 favorites]


You go back to prior to the great depression, I think something like 30% of the population worked on farms, producing the food we all needed to eat. Now it's something like 2%. And prior to the 20th century the number was probably even higher.

Of course, the burning of billions of barrels of oil to replace human labor (and to produce fertilizer) is what made this possible.

So the problem may fix itself.
posted by rr at 11:30 AM on March 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


I was laid off the day before election day, 2008. I haven't had a full-time job since, and am currently surviving on scarce freelance work and the end of my savings. It sucks. The path I'm on is not sustainable, and I don't know what I'm going to do when the rope reaches the end.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:32 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I finally understand why my grandfather never, ever got out of his Depression-era spending habits.

Man, you're not kidding. When I was practicing law for myself I would get a check for not a small amount of money, let's say $1,200. This is money long overdue from a client, and it's the only money coming in in, say, three months, and I'd have no idea when I'd see another check or another client. And I would just look at the check and think*: "I have to budget this check out over the rest of my life. I might never make another cent."

It gets into your bones.

* Setting aside the fact that I'd be in arrears on the student loans for twice that amount.
posted by gauche at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was laid off right before the last presidential election as well. Sure was fun to get loaded on Tuesday night but the remaining year and half of not working was kind of a bummer.
posted by josher71 at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Might be a while before that happens, rr....

The standard economic response to high unemployment is that new innovation will create additional jobs. But I can't imagine innovation bringing the unemployed with high school diplomas or less back into the workforce. That's where we're really seeing the sci-fi scenario outlined by delmoi play out: the unskilled labor that these people are suited to fill is increasingly replaced by automation (see, farm work), or by overseas production enabled by modern transportation, communication, and logistics.

The difference between what's happening and science fiction is that people still need to work to survive in the long run, and the economic system simply isn't providing opportunity for that to happen. There's some kind of major re-alignment of the economic system that's necessary, but, because well-educated policy makers are largely shielded from the economic forces in play, there's little discussion about what this re-alignment could take shape.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:45 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not working is absolutely the greatest thing if you have the means to afford it as a choice. If not, it's the bloody worst. And you don't really understand how bad it can be until you've been in the situation where you have no financial safety net and no visible prospect of a job. When that happens you start noticing every single homeless person you pass on the street in a very different way, and they haunt your dreams.
posted by Decani at 11:47 AM on March 29, 2012 [34 favorites]


I lost my job just over three weeks ago. I got a really good severance package and I'm still optimistic, but you people who've been unemployed for years are freaking me out.
posted by orange swan at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


My time unemployed basicalyl made me clinically depressed and did terrible things to my psyche. Only now after two years of graduate school I'm beginning to respect myself again and starting to feel like I actually have meaningful skills and that I'm a person worthy of life. Unemployment is profoundly devistating. I wish more people could understand before they judge the unemployed.

I was bysanding at an OWS even and someone said "get a job" and I felt blind senseless rage. I wanted to end his pathetic fucking life. I want a job goddamnit! I WANT TO WORK! Goddamnit it, I'm still not ok from being unemployed and I shouldn't go on any more because I'm feeling very incivil.
posted by fuq at 11:52 AM on March 29, 2012 [19 favorites]


The only real key is to diversify your talents. I don't think you can really expect to follow a single career path anymore.
posted by JJ86 at 11:55 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "What are people going to do with their time?"

suffer in misery, as fitting punishment for not working
posted by idiopath at 11:56 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know this for sure: I finally understand why my grandfather never, ever got out of his Depression-era spending habits.

Funny you should mention this. What really got us out of the Depression was WWII and the massive amount of manufacturing that it required. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not had anywhere near the same effect on the economy due in no small part to what's happened to manufacturing in the US. Hence, our current problems require solutions that don't involve us going to war and I just don't see anyone in a position of power coming up with any.
posted by tommasz at 11:57 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


World War II was do or die. Wars like Vietnam and Iraq weren't the massive manufacturing orgies that defined a big war.
posted by JJ86 at 12:01 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, defense spending never dropped to interwar levels again after World War II ended. So when we do enter larger-scale armed conflict, there's a lot of equipment that's already been manufactured, even though we didn't need it yet, so production doesn't have to ramp up as much.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:08 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Creating work just so people have something they can get paid for is far from optimal. If the world is changing so all our needs can be met with less human labor, than the only sensible solution is for all of us to work fewer hours (for the same pay we currently receive).
posted by idiopath at 12:16 PM on March 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


But what happens when we simply no longer need that much actual human labor to produce all the things that we want? If you can produce everything that everyone needs and wants with only, say 5% of the population, where are "jobs" going to come from? What are people going to do with their time?

Probably fight to the death in meaningless, exterminist wars engineered by the other 5%.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


than the only sensible solution is for all of us to work fewer hours (for the same pay we currently receive).

Or less pay. We have a distribution problem here: your options are, more or less, a 40-hour-a-week job, or no job, or the economic insecurity that comes with part-time or freelance work. There are not, to my knowledge, any substantial number of "full time" jobs, with benefits and stability, which require less than 40 hours per week.

The most reasonable long-term fix I can see for our long term employment problems would be to simply add a third weekend day and cut everyone's pay by 20%, thereby the same amount of work & compensation across more people.

This is unlikely to happen, though, because employees cost money, and health care is expensive. Employers are motivated to get by with as few employees as they can manage, which means condensing as much work as possible into the smallest number of skilled positions.

It's a shame that whole health insurance reform fiasco sucked up all the energy that could have gone into reforming the American health care system, because doing away with the system where employers are expected to provide health insurance would make the redistribution of work across more people easier to achieve.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:28 PM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


If more wealth is being created in fewer labor hours, the ethical solution is to pay people the same for fewer hours on the book. Otherwise you are simply increasing income disparities, because I guarantee you that someone is profiting on that increased efficiency. Money has the least marginal utility when it goes to those who have the most money. The maximum societal benefit comes when we decrease income inequality. The owning class does not have a moral right to the fruits of increased productivity.
posted by idiopath at 12:34 PM on March 29, 2012 [21 favorites]


Obvious, I know, but one can't help but roll out Bertrand Russell in a discussion like this...

"Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work."
posted by robself at 12:38 PM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


But what happens when we simply no longer need that much actual human labor to produce all the things that we want? If you can produce everything that everyone needs and wants with only, say 5% of the population, where are "jobs" going to come from? What are people going to do with their time?

Well, if you believe all the "technology will set us free" propaganda that we've been fed for umpteen decades, we supposedly will be able to devote ourselves to personal improvement and travel and creating art and on and on and on. Oddly, those lovely prognostications never addressed the issue of income. People just magically had stuff and could go places and do stuff eternally.

I was let go from my last "real" job (i.e. steady paycheck and healthcare) one month before our 25th wedding anniversary...and the only big trip we've ever done together, which was already paid for. That was in 2005. I'm still unemployed. I eke-out a pittance from a dwindling freelance business and do the housework. Luckily, my wife is still employed and is a wizard at making a dollar stretch like a heretic on a rack. We have to buy our own health insurance, though. Anthem, it seems, has our eventual bankruptcy as a corporate goal.

Being unemployed for so long (and having gone on enough interviews and fielded enough oblique questions around my age to know the score) I just don't see any future for me anymore. The daily pounding to my self-esteem is real and never-ending. Many are the days where I think seriously that my family would be far better off with my life insurance payout than with me.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:04 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The system has been designed so that you'll die quietly. Well, you could refuse to die quietly.

...but... no, can't do that, can we? Nope, wouldn't be proper. Wouldn't be right. Better to die of something preventable than embarrass anyone or inconvenience the wealthy in any way. Instead, let's mortgage our future so that they can have an even easier time of it. Yes, that's the answer. Not violence, no. Violence is never the answer.

Now then, kindly go back to your cardboard boxes and think about what you've done. About how you've failed your superiors. We may forgive your children, if you're lucky.

(We probably won't forgive your children, and will just put them in prison out of general principle, but we may permit them to gaze upon our glories on the work-hall TV. You can take comfort in that, can't you? I mean, you're not a communist, right?)
posted by aramaic at 1:13 PM on March 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


This toxic relation between money and power has to end, and be replaced by a system that respects the value of a human life.
posted by stonepharisee at 1:14 PM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


If suffering built character we'd be a nation of saints.
posted by The Whelk at 1:16 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Among my immediate group of friends, I was alone in losing my job and house and sitting unemployed for three years, and over time I came to feel that it was my particular punishment to lose at life so totally. I feel that my time unemployed was simply the beginning of a long and likely very unhappy end game. This thread and the stories of so many in the same situation have been illuminating.

I returned to part-time work about nine months ago, at a stiff 75% reduction in pay from my last full-time job. 50 looms just over the horizon for me, and I know that I should consider myself extremely lucky to have what I do, because it is more than likely that I will never have my previous level of income again, even if I find full-time work.
posted by briank at 1:25 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The most reasonable long-term fix I can see for our long term employment problems would be to simply add a third weekend day and cut everyone's pay by 20%, thereby the same amount of work & compensation across more people.

Maybe more platable would be a mandated three weeks paid vacation for even part time employees.
posted by Mitheral at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Among my immediate group of friends, I was alone in losing my job and house and sitting unemployed for three years, and over time I came to feel that it was my particular punishment to lose at life so totally. I feel that my time unemployed was simply the beginning of a long and likely very unhappy end game.

That sounds really familiar. I've had many, many conversations with my wife where I try to convince her that she's not being punished for anything. That's a hellishly pernicious idea, and hard to root out.
posted by COBRA! at 1:28 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's a hellishly pernicious idea

Merely one of many. What, you think it's accidental?

The best part is, you are being punished -- but not by the uncaring universe or some laughable deity. No, you're being punished by the very same system you're all so desperate to re-join. It's been designed that way, it's exceptionally good at it, and all those years you spent working for it have only reinforced the mechanism. You are, in effect, being punished by your own past selves, by your friends, your neighbors, your own families.

The whole thing is terribly amusing, when you view it from a high enough vantage point.

No, you can just take our word for it. No need to actually think about getting all the way up here. By the way, you'd best quiet down or we'll take our oppression elsewhere and then you'll all really be screwed. We're the job creators, right? Yeah, remember that.

...and maybe polish up your begging routine. It's not sufficiently amusing. I deserve better than you've managed thus far. You realize there are kids living in Mumbai intersections who would kill you for the right to beg in front of me? Step up your game.
posted by aramaic at 1:38 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


The only real key is to diversify your talents. I don't think you can really expect to follow a single career path anymore.

That takes time, energy, and money. And even then, it doesn't always work. There's a lot of hurting people who've tried almost anything you can think of to get a job in this thread, let's not give them chirpy glib advice, ok?
posted by emjaybee at 1:38 PM on March 29, 2012 [28 favorites]


Diversifying talents is only hedging your bet. The economy can produce everything we need with significantly less work, and until we have a viable safety net and significant restructuring of workplace norms (regarding hours worked, wages, vacations, etc.), people are litarally going to die as a consequence of increased efficiency.
posted by idiopath at 2:11 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh hi thread, I've been laid off yesterday, I've highly specialized skills, no education beyond college and I'm 42 with two kids, unemployed wife and mortgage to pay. I knew something was coming my way to cheer me up.
I've also about six months worth of savings to bring my rusted programming skills to life, teach myself HTML5, Java, Ruby and I don't know what else to turn a forgotten hobby into a breadwinning skill. Don't tell me I'm not optimistic!
posted by hat_eater at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is not what I needed to read today.
posted by canine epigram at 2:27 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was unemployed for two years starting in February 2009. Just over six months ago I won the job jackpot - a full time, salaried, benefited, 401(k)-matched, paid vacation, work-from-home gig that suits me perfectly. And I just turned 58. I beat all the odds and I can't believe how lucky I am - and I know it's luck.

I feel all of you who are still dealing with it. It was such a sad, empty, desperate, angry time. Unemployment is constant, oppressive, neverending rejection. It is lonely, it is miserable, and it hurts. You want to leap up and strangle the overprivileged idiots who spend your entire interview asking you to justify your unemployed status, as though you were at fault. Only by great effort and frugality did I make it out with my house, savings, skills and mental health intact, and without hurting anyone else.

I want this to happen for everyone who wants it. You deserve it.

I am posting this because I've been reading MF for years, always wanted to join, but could never quite convince myself I had anything of worth to add. But now I have a reason. My company is hiring. As soon as I figure out how, I will be posting information under the Jobs header.

Good luck.
posted by caryatid at 2:51 PM on March 29, 2012 [30 favorites]


Of course, the burning of billions of barrels of oil to replace human labor (and to produce fertilizer) is what made this possible.
That... doesn't really make sense. Human labor can't replace fertilizer.
The difference between what's happening and science fiction is that people still need to work to survive in the long run,
The current "system" requires people to work, but what happens when the employment to population ratio drops below 50%, and the majority of Americans aren't working? How long will the current system be politically sustainable? Right now it's... 58%. Obviously a chunk of those people are under 18, but still. There have to be a large chunk of people who hate their jobs.

Technology isn't to that point yet, but we'll probably get there pretty soon.
posted by delmoi at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2012


That... doesn't really make sense. Human labor can't replace fertilizer.

Actually, that's perfectly plausible. More labor-intensive farming techniques keep soil in good condition from year to year. Industrial farming techniques generally completely destroy the soil structure by mechanically turning the soil, and then make up for the lack of soil habitat with shit-tons of petroleum-based fertilizer.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:12 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


what happens when the employment to population ratio drops below 50%

You all kill each other for the desperate chance of getting a job so that you stand a chance of avoiding crushing poverty & random prison sentences.

Seriously.

You'll do it, too, because so many of you genuinely believe the lies you've been sold. There are entire states where mentioning any doubt in this area renders you a social and political outcast.

Most excitingly, some of the best jobs you'll be offered involve your handing out beatdowns to your erstwhile compatriots.

It'll be fun! Just like when you played "army" as kids! You get to wear scary black body armor, and shoot people if they act uppity!

The best trick the devil ever played was convincing the world to brutalize itself on his behalf. Now then, be good little droogies and polish your truncheons.
posted by aramaic at 3:19 PM on March 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


The only real key is to diversify your talents.

I have a BS in biology and another one in chemistry. I'm also an MD. I can make things out of wood, metal and leather. I can also fix cars, motorcycles and bicycles. I've built and modified numerous firearms. However, none of these has helped me to get a decent job so far.
So what other talents would you suggest I acquire? Juggling perhaps? Or maybe basketweaving? Cause the way I see it, if US doesn't need any more MDs, I should probably move elsewhere. Luckly I have places I'm welcome...
posted by c13 at 3:21 PM on March 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


That... doesn't really make sense.

You should try to plow a field without any machinery sometimes...
posted by c13 at 3:24 PM on March 29, 2012


"I have to budget this check out over the rest of my life. I might never make another cent." It gets into your bones.

Yeah, this is exactly it. This is the truly destructive part of the experience of job insecurity that seems, abstractly, like it'd be easy for anyone to empathize with, but that you can't really understand fully if you've never had the misfortune to live through it (and that you have a hard time ever letting go of if you have): the radical uncertainty, the constant gnawing anxiety about a future you don't have the power to prepare for. And this is why despite sometimes seeming ridiculous (Breaking News Bulletin for NYT Readership: Unemployment Actually Not Fun!) it's good for there to be research and reporting like this, demonstrating the effects these social conditions have on people's health and lives; there are real individual and social consequences to these individual experiences. The psychology of poverty is not just a bunch of moving personal stories, it has direct social and physical outcomes.
posted by RogerB at 3:43 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh hey, I have a phd in mathematics and have been working under the table as a handyman/carpenter for the past 3 yrs since i finished... Except for a brief stint as a cc adjunct teacher where i made less than i did as a grad student. Right now my best job prospect is as a temp laborer milling lumber for a woodshop 45 minutes away, except that the money for that job hasnt been allocated, i have $100 in my bank account and my car just died so i cant get to a job which might not exist where i'm probably going to end up losing a finger anyway...

Smeone tell me how to win this game?
posted by ennui.bz at 3:48 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Think about any person who's been retired for a while, pretty much in the same boat. Dad expected to die soon after he retired, lived 20 years instead. What hobbies he had were limited to clement months. I felt sorry for him.

Life offers a lot to do that many overlook while on the treadmill. Absorbtion in what you really care about (but may have forgotten for a long time), be it music, reading, nature (and that very useful exercise the lack of which can make things -much- worse), growing things, volunteering, self-discovery. It's a time to explore shed some old values, re-learn or learn anew.

Once the disposable is gone, then the somewhat disposable, living need not be a great expense. Billions live on what we might have carelessly tossed away on the frivilous. Pay for quality, eat for health, walk for joy, stop overlooking, and enjoy. It beats sinking into a morass all to hell.
posted by Twang at 4:23 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're not from around here, Twang, are you?
posted by c13 at 4:31 PM on March 29, 2012


Twang... I lost my job two weeks ago. I like what you said. I know it is somewhat idealistic but faced with reality, a little idealism can maybe open up some other opportunities. What you said is what I needed right now. Thanks!
posted by njohnson23 at 4:40 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I want to give hugs to all the unemployed, underemployed and despairing. I have no hope to offer, just hugs, but I'll give as many hugs as you want.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:40 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Noway to win this game. The unspoken reality is that it only takes one arrogant asshole to fuck your whole life, for good. That person's motivation doesn't matter; it doesn't matter whether he or she is honest or good or not. It's his or her position that matters, and your willingness to kiss his or her ass. A monkey kind of thing I guess.

Back around 2000 I was doing maintenance work for a little town in Utah. I'd been there for five years. I found out that a public official was stealing funds and faking documents in an attempt to cover it up. I was stressed out by the fact that this person was using my own town council-issued credit card to accomplish part of this theft.

Noone wanted to hear about it. The outgoing mayor merely wanted to end his term without a big stink popping up, while the new mayor was too focused on rodeos and parades to take any of it seriously.

I ended up walking away from all of it, the house my wife and I were buying, any sense of stability, which is the most precious thing your working life can provide in the end, and the most ephemeral and poorly-valued thing.

Anyway, I'm obsessive about work-centered duscussions and this is a good one. Thanks.
posted by metagnathous at 4:44 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course, the burning of billions of barrels of oil to replace human labor (and to produce fertilizer) is what made this possible.
That... doesn't really make sense. Human labor can't replace fertilizer.


Humans can starve in large numbers and human labor can replace mechanized labor for those who remain.

Sandals to sandals.
posted by rr at 4:51 PM on March 29, 2012


If the world is changing so all our needs can be met with less human labor, than the only sensible solution is for all of us to work fewer hours (for the same pay we currently receive).

The IWW was and is way ahead of you.
posted by phrontist at 5:42 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been unemployed twice in my lifetime. The first time was 2 weeks after returning from my honeymoon, and my wife had already lost her job before the wedding. We spent the first 4 months of our marriage unemployed.

The second time was after 5 years of working at another startup. I couldn't get a job for a year, and finally landed in a great position.

Despite making more money now, I lost all my savings, and my credit score dropped. I paid off all my cards and then the creditors cancelled them because I was unemployed and they got their money. I still refuse to patronize one of the companies, who I had credit with for 19 years before they dumped me. This isn't going to help my credit rating, but fuck them. I paid them everything I owed them, but my credit with another company impacted their decision. I used my 401K savings for this, and I am still paying off the taxes from that.

So, even though I've been employed for almost 2 years now, I am still in a hole that is going to take years to dig out of. I'm depressed, unhealthy, and struggling every day, and I have it good. I have many friends who are struggling worse than I am.

On the bright side, I made the call for "better living through chemistry," and I am slowly turning things around. I don't talk about it with my friends and family, because I'm afraid that they won't understand how devastated I feel inside. Outwardly, I'm making progress, and great strides towards happiness...but I'm still a mess. And I have it good.
posted by Chuffy at 5:50 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


c13 I have a BS in biology and another one in chemistry. I'm also an MD. I can make things out of wood, metal and leather. I can also fix cars, motorcycles and bicycles. I've built and modified numerous firearms. However, none of these has helped me to get a decent job so far.

What about getting into a business?

Most people get into business because they know how to do a type of work, and from the looks of your resume above it seems that that has been your experience. Michael Gerber in "The E-Myth" describes this as "a technician having an entrepreneurial seizure" and of course the technician overworks him/herself and makes next to no money, because knowing how to do the work well matters very little. What matters is marketing. Marketing brings you customers. Good service to those customers brings you repeat customers. Repeat customers bring you their friends.

The best kind of business to get into is one where you don't know how to do the production work, because then you are not tempted to try. It is not the business owner's job to do the work, it's their job to make the business more profitable. There are two figures that really matter in a business: net profit margin, and turnover, in that order.

The objective of you getting a business, is to get it running without you and generate cashflow so that you can go and acquire more. Unlike jobs, you can have as many businesses as you like.

The best way to acquire a business is to take it over from a technician whose entrepreneurial seizure has worn off. For example, this gym. Let's take a look at it.

Most men will look at that and think "A women's only gym? I'm a man. I can't run a women's only gym!". Yes you can. In fact you will be better at it, because you will be forced to hire female staff to actually be there and interact with the customers. You will feel socially uncomfortable even being in the place. That's great! Don't go there!

On that point though it is worth actually considering whether it is worthwhile to keep it as a women's gym, or to rebrand it in some way - eg as a fitness centre offering yoga, body pump etc, a shift-workers' gym open 24/7, a studio for freelance personal trainer, etc. The less you care about gyms, the better - this is a decision to be made on the numbers. Whatever changes you make, you will lose X customers and gain Y customers; so long as Y is greater than X (or average profit per customer goes up enough to make up for it, which is actually better, but we'll get to that), it's fine.

Vendor's motivation is obvious: the thing is turning over $40K per year and netting $12K. The owners want to concentrate on mission work: the mission of making a halfway-decent living. So why do you want it? The owner(s) here are probably fitness fanatics, perhaps personal trainers themselves, who really believed that womens' need for fitness could be met by their skills, and by being such a great gym, the customers would just flock to them. And look at what happened: twelve years later they have a gym that is losing them money (because even a crappy job pays better than that), and from the fact that they say "the grocery store ... should be tapped to find new member prospects" it is clear that they haven't done that, don't want to do that, and indeed don't want to even think about going near the place any more. Paying the monthly rent and bills irritates them immensely and it's likely they just want out under any halfway-reasonable terms whatsoever.

One of the most important, even vital things in this process is to account for work you actually do in the business, as salary. The true profit of a business is calculated after market-rate salaries are paid to anyone, including the owners, who work in it. If a business makes $25K profit and the owner works in it and gets by on $25K, but market rate for what he/she does is $50K, that business is actually making a $25K loss. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is the case here; I would suspect that the "$12K profit" would be paid to the wife who works there 40 hours per week, while her husband has a paying job.

This is a renovation purchase. These folks, bless them, have basically failed in business and while it isn't actually dead yet, they have lost the heart for it and that, more than any other thing, prevents a business from doing better.

How would you turn it around? Well, before you spend a dollar in this or any other business, you should go to the library and the internet and get hold of a couple of business books: Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" is basically the #1 best small business textbook. Jack Canfield's "The Success Principles" is another excellent one. Motivating yourself is extremely important in this - to be a successful business owner, the #1 problem to overcome is actually believing that you can, giving yourself permission to do it.

Now this gym is just an example. Maybe you can turn it around or maybe not. Going through the exercise of thinking about it, is worth doing.

Call your local broker and ask to take a look at businesses they have for sale. They will try to sell you the most overpriced businesses they have. Tell them you'd like to start at the other end, please - that you're looking for a business to fix up, and it has to meet certain criteria, so you'd like to look at their whole list, including businesses where the owner has ceased to advertise but is still interested in selling and may be open to paying the broker's commission if they brought a buyer (you). At least half of people who buy businesses through brokers are exactly the same sort of people who sell them. You need to distinguish yourself in the eyes of the broker.

These are your criteria: (1) High revenue/turnover, low net profit, average prices at least 10% below the industry standard. These businesses are incredibly easy to fix up: raise the price by 20%. 20% of your customers will leave. Great! These are the most price-sensitive, penny-pinching, problem-causing customers. They are with you for one reason only: because you are cheap. They have no loyalty, they complain, they have no respect for your staff or your premises or your products or you, and they are literally not worth opening the door to greet. They are the godchildren of Sam Walton, and they belong to him, not you.

Your customers believe in the value of good products and great service and they are willing to pay to get this. You treat them like dear friends, and they return that friendship. The customer is not "always right"; the customer is always right about what they want to achieve with the thing, not what particular thing it is that they should buy to achieve that. Distinguishing this, with proper questions, is the art of sales in a nutshell. If you have a customer who insists on buying something you know is incorrect for their needs, emphasise the return option. "We welcome you to take home the XYZ and try it, and if you experience any of the issues that we discussed, we would be happy to have you return it in saleable condition and if you do, we will give you a credit on the ABC or any other model in the store." Not "If you're dumb enough to buy this thing against our advice, it's your problem. No returns."

"The customer is always right" is up there with "if you build it they will come" as the stupidest advice ever given to business owners. You actually want your customers to think that they're getting just a bit more than they actually deserve to get, for what they're paying you. Not too much, or they will think you're an idiot; not too little, or they will think you're a price-gouger. In tipping industries tip size is a good indicator of this; a tip really means "I should actually have paid more for this than I did, so here's enough to make it up to just a bit below what I think it was worth". (Yes, low wages based on high tipping expectations are still a very bad idea.)

Also, $100 per customer per year x 1000 customers = $100K; $120K per customer per year x 800 customers = $96K at 80% of the service time and material costs. It generally takes about as long and costs about as much in materials to do a good job as a bad one.

(1a) A business where service actually makes a serious difference in customer experience. This is 99% of businesses anyway. Even with vending machines, frequency of restock, range of products etc, and your response to stuck goods and out of order calls, makes a difference. However, you want one where you can see a clear way of giving better service without costing yourself very much money. Domino's Pizza did as well as it did for its (crazy) owners because of one service innovation: home delivery. Can you find a way of making a housecall-based medical/nursing practice actually work financially? Whoever does that in the USA will make themselves an absolute fortune.

(2) Easily-acquired staff. This can come from systems; McDonalds and Subway are among the absolute best in the world at this. It can also come from certification: to be a lawyer, accountant, doctor, personal trainer etc a person must undergo a course of training and they have of their own accord gone and done that, and they more-or-less know what they are supposed to actually do. Your job as owner of a business that includes such people, is to fill their day about 80% full with paying clients, and make sure they are free to provide excellent service to those clients, and your employees take care of everything else. This is why good medical and legal practices have practice managers, and bad ones make the doctors and lawyers do their own billing.

(3) Vendor motivation. You want to acquire a business whose owner is desperate to get out. It doesn't greatly matter if it's because they're going broke, if you can see why they're going broke and know what to do about it. You can, and should, discuss that with them: in almost every case they don't even care any more. Don't worry about them going and doing it rather than selling to you. And if they did, they'd be grateful anyway, and you should go buy someone else's business who is convinced that customers will never, ever pay $8 for a cup of coffee and what you should do is shove as many $1 cups into people's faces as fast as humanly possible and make sure you use the cheapest instant coffee and never put too much milk in because milk is expensive. There are far more desperate sellers in business brokerage than sophisticated buyers.

(4) Obviously financeable. Banks give you money under two circumstances: (a) it is absolutely clear that the deal works with or without you; (b) they have you shackled at neck and ankle. The mortgage industry works on option B and it is brutally clear to a banker that the purchase of a house cannot possibly work without some poor bastards shovelling money into it. A house for you to live in is a horribly bad business model. Accordingly, a lot of those poor bastards think of businesses the same way, and the banks don't really care; if the poor bastard is willing and able to shovel in money, the bank will approve the loan. This is why we get business loans backed by home equity, etc. If your business loan has to be backed by home equity, or your consumer credit rating is relevant to this discussion (as opposed to your directorial history), it's probably a bad idea.

Go with option A instead; present the figures of the business and an independent valuation, show that the business owner is willing to sell for considerably less than that valuation, and show your proposed changes to business operational methods and likely expected effect of this upon the business figures. If this is the first time you did it, you probably will still have to go through credit checks etc.

It is often easier to get private finance, or a money partner. People even advertise in the newspaper to do this. "Looking for business opportunity to invest in", etc. Now those people get a lot of scammers approaching them and accordingly, if they know what they're doing, they put a layer between themselves and the scammers, and often that layer is the same business broker who gave you the figures for the businesses you looked at. By now you have built up a relationship with the broker. Ask if they have any investors on their books, perhaps people who have recently sold businesses, who may be looking to partner in a joint venture; you would take responsibility for developing the business, and they would provide the capital to purchase it. Since the broker is primarily interested in putting together a sale, to earn a commission, they will actually do this if they think you can make a success of your deal.

But the best and easiest way to get finance for a business is to get it from the vendor. The way this works, is that the vendor sells you the business with the price of that to be paid out, out of profits, over time. The less financially and more personally the vendor is motivated, the more likely this will be. People get divorced, want to move house, get offered jobs that they like more than their business, even just get really bored with doing the same thing every day. Effectively this makes the vendor your money partner. Again the broker is a good asset here; if he/she is convinced of your ability to turn the business around, and knows you can put together $10K down and another $20K for working capital, and the business would return a profit of $50K in the first year and likely a lot more in the second (you shouldn't be buying businesses that you don't clearly believe that you can improve by 20% in the second year of ownership), then vendor financing actually looks like a good idea. The vendor may want a lump sum of money, but this is distinct from whether they need to sell their business.

Anyway, I wrote a hell of a lot more on that than I had originally intended to and it's a very deep subject. If my article above is TL;DR, business really is not for you, and may I suggest that you browse the businesses for sale ads to look for businesses that might employ people like you, and go talk to the business owner, tell them that you saw their ad, and ask about being trained to work in that business. Market rate is good, cash-in-hand is OK, work experience is acceptable if there is something you can learn from this and you connect with this person on a personal level.

Give them two weeks of your time. and at the end of that time, tell them "thank you, I have enjoyed my time here and when you sell the business I'd appreciate a recommendation to the new owner, or I could work for you for a couple of days a week if you would like to free up some of your time". Businesses for sale have three advantages from an employment point of view: the owner is keen to free themselves from it, and accordingly doesn't want to be there, so somebody competent and willing is in a good position to be paid to solve that problem; for the buyer, having someone there to do the actual work is a problem, and "business has a trained part-time staff member who fills in for the business owner when required" is a huge selling advantage; and thirdly, the new owner probably wants to expand the business and accordingly will need more people. So even if the present owner doesn't put you on, he/she might pass your resume across and say "I trained this person, and they were keen".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:07 PM on March 29, 2012 [27 favorites]


Laid off in April of 2010, currently working part time no benefits as a used bookstore clerk for the shining sum of $9.50 an hour plus the freelance writing that I am incredibly grateful and lucky to have, thanks to another Mefite. Which I don't do enough of, because honestly after I've been on my feet for 8 solid hours a day, three or four days in a row, I'm really tired and my back hurts. I'll be 50 in less than two years. My skills are terrifyingly diversified, I live on very little and lo, I'm scared as fuck every minute of every day because it's only going to take one illness or my 14 year old car breaking down for me to lose everything. Still I love my non living wage job and my wonderful coworkers, who are all somehow maintaining on the thin fine edge of the poverty line and my god, I never knew how to feel gratitude until I got here. Yet, you know, it would only take about another grand a month for me to be secure, something that would take me up to, oh, the magic sum of say 35 or 40 or even, oh incredible riches, 50K a year. But I don't think I will ever get there again and prices keep on going up.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:45 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


aeschenkarnos- Exactly and very well said. The idea of "getting a job" is an idea which made sense in the past but the world has moved beyond that. You need to be an entrepeneur "making your job". The only people I know that have been in a job from high school/college to retirement are in government service. Anyone working in the private sector has shifted among employers and many times among careers. Adapting to new careers and having a diversity of talents is going to be mandatory for everyone in the future. If you think otherwise, it will be a hard road.

The people that I know that are the worst off are those still sending out resumes looking for an employer and a job to fit their resume. A very dear friend has been beating that dead horse for nearly 20 years. I'm sorry that is hard for people that need the stability of a 9to5 job but that is clearly the reality. You can't just be good at repairing a car, or a gun or a shoe but you have to also be a salesman, a marketing guru, and an artist.
posted by JJ86 at 6:53 PM on March 29, 2012


JJ86: That's all well and good if you're fortunate enough to have the educational background, personality, and access to capital and/or social connections to go it on your own. What about everyone else?
posted by phrontist at 7:00 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this new world order you're describing leaves out vast swathes of the population who can't be four things rolled into one. On the other hand, what you're describing also makes for a very uncomfortable life-work balance who do play the game. People who 'need the stability of a 9-to-5 job' includes pretty much anyone who wants to spend reasonable time building a family. As a model, it's problematic economically (since it fails to include large portions of the potential work-force, and is thus massively inefficient) as well as socially.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:17 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not to mention that it's not scalable. There simply isn't demand enough to fuel fifty million small businesses.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:21 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am far from fortunate unless you consider growing up lower class as fortunate. Maybe my generation was fortunate to be taught these things in the public schools and community colleges that I attended. Hard to say.

I cannot say I am responsible for the way things are because I am not one of the captains of industry or a public policy maker. This seems to be the way things are and are progressively moving towards. These also seem to be the platforms of many Republican candidates of private business initiative. I don't like those ideas and don't vote for them. If you don't like them then I suggest you vote against those who push for those ideas as well.
posted by JJ86 at 7:27 PM on March 29, 2012


aeschenkarnos, I know you mean well, and many people here may find your advice helpful and useful. So understand that I'm only speaking for myself here.

But, helpful advice from loving, well-meaning friends and family is why I no longer have any kind of social life. It's just unbearable to be around people who want to help you solve your problems, but have no idea of what you're really dealing with.

Getting some kind of universal healthcare with some kind of mental healthcare included would go a long ways to helping those of us who are simply paralyzed with depression at this point. I'm currently grossly under-employed, earning about 5% of my former income, with no benefits. I pay for my own health insurance, but the only policy I can afford has a $10,000 deductible. So while I have health insurance, I have no health care. I haven't seen a doctor in years, and don't expect to for a long time to come. I've been trying to hang on to 2014 when I believe some of the health care changes would have finally allowed me to get some help. The whiffs of bad news coming from the Supreme Court have been especially discouraging recently. Compounded with anxiety that makes it difficult to pay attention to news that I need to hear. I can barely stand to read about or follow any news about policies or issues that actually impact me. Yes, I still manage to make it to the polls to vote and I am a lifetime leftie, but I feel abandoned by many in the Democratic party who should be helping us. Not that I would consider moving to the right, but I do consider moving further left, and voting Green or Socialist, or something.

I'm living as frugally as possible from my tiny income and from savings that were meant for retirement and that have already been seriously depleted by 5 years of this. If I can get by for 6 more years, I'll be able to claim Social Security. But I don't know if I can make it that long on what I have. Oh, and the tiny job that I have is from a county funded program that is under constant threat of disappearing. Life is pretty scary.
posted by anon.sock.puppet at 7:52 PM on March 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


If your job-search method is to look for likely employers, send out resumes, and hopefully get an interview and thereafter hired, yeah, that probably won't work because you skipped the beginning. All that paper stuff is a way of formalizing a connection between yourself and the business. It's important, it needs to happen before the hiring process can even begin, but it doesn't actually make anyone care about you. That means if you do get a job that way, it will be under someone who doesn't care about you.

So that's why you want to start with networking. Even the tiniest sliver of familiarity with the hiring manager means you have some kind of connection and they care about you somehow, so then the resume actually represents something to them. Otherwise it's like they're reading a character sheet from an RPG they do not play.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:55 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, you're not speaking only for yourself. The bootstrap how-to-be-an-entrepreneur stuff is completely out of place and tone-deaf here, as well as it's based in pure ideological myth: you can't fix an entire economy full of desperately un- and under-employed people with small-business individualist self-help, and it's churlish to suggest otherwise.
posted by RogerB at 7:56 PM on March 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


I don't think he was suggesting that? It was out of place, sure, but it's pretty generic employment advice.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:59 PM on March 29, 2012


So, anyone know how high the suicide rates have gone up since 2008? I seriously keep wondering.

I don't know how I've been lucky enough to stay employed when better people with more skills than me can't find work. I am terrified of the day that luck runs out, because it sounds like I'll have no other options other than death or living with my mother or being homeless and there will be no hope of employment ever. This is just unbelievable after awhile, except...well, you know.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:26 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh hai, another unemployed hard science Ph.D. here, getting more and more discouraged about ever doing any science again. Being a lady of leisure is nice in small doses, but some jobs really do underpin one's self-worth and whole identity. I've worked in retail and writing jobs, but I am a biochemist. Or at least I was; now I'm a useless nobody.
posted by Quietgal at 8:59 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


@LogicalDash: Your argument is ahistorical. The CCF and labour unions made gains with immigrants largely because immigrants were typically not hired into upper management positions. If you're networking amongst your peers in a culture that doesn't have management experience, you're likely going to be passed over for jobs. The sixth generation Canadian that has an uncle that works as a foreman would likely be given a job in the office instead.

I got my job by sending out my resume and making sure my cover letter was proofread correctly. There wasn't some mythical networking I needed to go through and networking won't fix issues related to an oversupply of some skillsets.
posted by DetriusXii at 9:23 PM on March 29, 2012


I am not suggesting fixing an entire economy, nor that fifty million people could individually have small businesses or whatever ultra-generalized nonsense you care to spin up out of it. That's just ridiculous and verges on Libertarianism, for goodness sake! Ugh. I'd rather you accused me of plain stupidity or evil, for Libertarianism is both.

I am a socialist - I believe in the overall greater good of society, which requires that people be given (no, you do not have it as of right, you have it on others' sufferance and you are responsible to them to exercise wisely) the individual freedom to pursue personal goals, to develop their individual talents, so long as those goals do not cause excessive externalities like crime, pollution, poverty, miseducation, institutionalized prejudice, etc. I believe that it is the role of a strong government to evenhandedly and fairly minimize those externalities; to provide the best environment for the people to prosper, and to pull aside any barriers to them doing so. (Including other people's excessively entrenched wealth.)

But you don't live in anything even close to that kind of society, and neither do I, although I like to think mine is a lot closer. Advice to help you is not the same thing as advice to help everyone, and it definitely doesn't constitute advice to fix the system and should never be taken as such.

Any given individual could, theoretically succeed; but on the average, success will follow a bell-curve model, so the bell of the curve should be pushed as far up the axis of good living as it is possible for social power (government, science, capital, religion, whatever) to push it. You must govern and make policy on the presumption that most people will be mediocre at meeting whatever expectations you place on them.

I strongly believe that it is the responsibility of an entrepreneur to provide meaningful and beneficial employment at wages sufficient to allow a good life to his/her employees. That's the deal, the bargain, the "marriage" of labour and capital. The entrepreneur gets profit by giving others security. The employee gets security by giving others profit. Both must be treated fairly. When the entrepreneur has security, he/she must give up profit in the form of taxes. If the employee is to be given a greater share of the profit (and he/she should!), he/she must give up some security, ie submit to a greater expected performance to retain the job. The reason the USA is as horribly fucked-up as it is today is that people in the "entrepreneur" space--and Republican politicians excessively pandering to them--have shattered that deal. They demand security and profit for themselves, and neither for the workers. Americans have lost social cohesion, the simple common sense awareness that others' fates are strongly linked with one's own. The upper classes have gotten so excessively wealthy, they have so badly corrupted the regulatory bodies, that they have lost their healthy fear of falling. That fear makes them want the bottom to be well-cushioned.

If you don't pay people decently, who the hell do you expect to buy your products? Pervasive low pay depresses economies. There are many reasons why the Australian economy is as strong as it is, however the major reasons are high minimum wages, strong social security systems, and universal health care. It is safe to start a business in Australia. If you fail in business, the worst that can happen to you is you will go bankrupt and lose a whole bunch of unsecured assets (a principal place of residence is protected in bankruptcy, which has interesting side effects). And for that to happen you actually had to fail before you failed in business, by not setting yourself up properly, which is neither expensive nor difficult. You and your family won't starve. You probably won't die of poor medical care. You might still die of something medical, and people do all the time, but generally speaking you will be okay unless something so bad is wrong with you that you probably would have died of it even if you were a billionaire.

The exceptional will always be exceptional in any environment, and do not particularly need to be looked after or have their interests much protected, except to allow them to become as exceptional is is useful to society as a whole. A well-formed society should allow ordinary folks to live moderately good lives, with low ambition and fairly mediocre performance. If you have to be exceptional to just get by, there is a serious problem in how your society is set up. The exceptional should, fairly quickly, become rich. The mediocre among the rich, should fairly quickly, over a couple of generations, descend back into mediocrity. Interclass mobility needs to be high. They used to call this "the American dream", although it belongs to all humanity.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:24 PM on March 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh hai, another unemployed hard science Ph.D. here, getting more and more discouraged about ever doing any science again. Being a lady of leisure is nice in small doses, but some jobs really do underpin one's self-worth and whole identity. I've worked in retail and writing jobs, but I am a biochemist. Or at least I was; now I'm a useless nobody.
posted by Quietgal at 11:59 PM on March 29 [+] [!]


Don't be afraid, join the Galt Patrol by becoming a heroic entrepreneur, salesman, marketing guru, artist, and... Scientist. Brought to you by the people who have been sawing off the ladder one rung beneath them for their entire careers...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:27 PM on March 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Until recently, I was getting by on 20 hours a week at an after-school program, plus selling vintage books at the flea market some weekends. I made $13k last year, which doesn't go all that far in the DC area.

Five weeks ago, I started renting the basement of a local vintage store to sell vintage clothes, an enterprise that, if the numbers work out right, will double or (if I'm really really lucky) triple my income. I'm 26. I didn't finish college, and my marketable skills mostly involve being good with kids and being able to date any item of clothing from the last 200 years to a five-year period. I'm pretty sure I'm never going to own a home.

I have no idea what the future holds, especially considering that I'm wildly unsuited for any kind of office job. I also have chronic anxiety, which is well-managed with meds, but my self-paid insurance doesn't cover prescriptions-- if I didn't get samples from my doctor, I wouldn't be able to afford them, and when they go generic someday I'll be fucked. I think about where I'll be at 40 and it's just a big blank-- everything is so uncertain that I literally have no data to extrapolate from. And I still count my blessings, because I'm young and I've got time to figure it out, I hope.
posted by nonasuch at 8:00 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If more wealth is being created in fewer labor hours, the ethical solution is to pay people the same for fewer hours on the book. Otherwise you are simply increasing income disparities, because I guarantee you that someone is profiting on that increased efficiency. Money has the least marginal utility when it goes to those who have the most money. The maximum societal benefit comes when we decrease income inequality. The owning class does not have a moral right to the fruits of increased productivity.

Amen!

And part of that increased efficiency has come from making people work more hours for the same pay. It used to be 9-5 for office workers - not counting lunches, that's 35 hours a week. I know people who are now expected to work 9-6 or 8-5. And they've been so inculcated in the system that they think this is normal.

From the Marx thread also posted today, the author of that link pointed out - rightly - that capitalism has created the most wealth our world has ever seen. However, it wasn't capitalism that spread that wealth around -- left to it's own devices, as it was most of the 19th century, workers in 1900 were not much farther ahead than they had been in 1800, and, for many, their nutrition was worse than in 1700.

The only thing that spread the benefit of increased productivity to most of us were the movements to mitigate capitalism: socialism (in the form of social democracy and social welfare states) and unionism.
posted by jb at 8:10 AM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


So that's why you want to start with networking. Even the tiniest sliver of familiarity with the hiring manager means you have some kind of connection and they care about you somehow, so then the resume actually represents something to them. Otherwise it's like they're reading a character sheet from an RPG they do not play.

In my world, this is called nepotism. And while I have benefited from it, I still hate it. In a (somewhat) fair society, people should not have to rely on knowing the right people for their livelihoods.

And that's what were talking about here - not just jobs, but livelihoods - the means of securing the necessities of life. It's more than a job, it's about survival.

And while having a job may not be a right, every human being should have the right to a livelihood.
posted by jb at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


re: working less & technological unemployment, matthew yglesias notes that: "In this chart, the US employment/population ratio is in blue, the UK employment/population ratio is in yellow, and the German employment/population ratio is in red. You can see that the two English-speakign countries have basically always had higher ratios than Germany, even though the German labor market is currently booming and ours is slumping... If you want to understand the GDP gap between the US and Germany, it basically all comes down to the fact that a larger quantity of Americans are engaged in market production."

which suggests that you could just pay artists & teachers, e.g. a social wage, for i dunno 'neighborhood production' -- what their 'true' (multiplier/externality) utility value is for the community and society at large, cf. delong & summers (back together again) on labor hysteresis, like if you can have a driverless 'economy' why not a cashless one? then it'd be apparent how to pay for what we need... right?
posted by kliuless at 10:40 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jb, we naturally favour our friends and relatives because the thing that they honestly have, or should have, is trustworthiness. We know them, and we intend to maintain ongoing good relations with them, and so long as we believe they intend the same for us, that is a quality of great value that you genuinely possess.

Some random person? Not so much. Their resume may look better, but skills can be taught more easily than attitude and for the vast majority of jobs, you can learn everything you need to know in three months or less. A week, if the systems are good enough. (For professions, there is normally a certification course, and if they are a qualified accountant for example, we still want them to fit in, in our workplace, and they will learn our scheduling system, filing, etc within a few months. It just means you start with a smaller pool of people, to recruit on attitude from.)

The reasons corporate HR discourages "nepotism" are that the wrong people are hired for the wrong reasons. They are not recruited because they are any good, they are recruited because the person in the position to do so feels sorry for them, or obligated to them. It's a shitty way to get a job and it never works out well for anyone in the long term, unless it is treated as just a "foot in the door".

Networking is not about "just happening to know someone". It is about developing trust, in the person's competence, loyalty, trustworthiness, personal integrity, etc etc. The classic nepotistic problem of the boss's idiot son has nothing to do with his networking skills; among the many reasons that the boss's son is an idiot, is that he is bad at networking.

Networking, fundamentally, is increasing the number of people who trust and like and respect you. Another word for it is "making friends". Assuming you treat your friends well and look after their interests, and your skills and personality and attitude are aligned with what they want to achieve, why shouldn't you let them help you? It's about being a member of a common community, engaging with others, giving and receiving.

A point on "bad attitude". Most people with "bad" work attitudes are in the wrong jobs, in the wrong industries, living the wrong lives. They are desperate for a change but see no way to achieve it, being socioeconomically "stuck" doing what they do, held there by family responsibilities, debt, a sense of obligation to co-workers and customers, sheer inertia, depression, lack of imagination, etc. If this is you, try something else. Work out who you really are and find something to do that will make that person happy. Take jobs as stepping stones, as opportunities to meet people. And learn skills.

Overoptimistic, privileged idealism? Sure, if you want it to be. I prefer to believe that I am not defined by my past, or by other people's agendas for me and decisions on my behalf, that I have the right to change myself and my circumstances, that opportunities to do so are everywhere, and that life can be good for me. I prefer to believe that everyone has that right, and that it is our responsibility and duty to create a world where everyone may exercise it.

You have three choices here. You can act to improve your lot in life, you can sincerely and gratefully accept your lot in life, or you can waste your life stuck with a desperate desire to improve but taking no effective action towards that. You may be taking action that is not working. Try something else. Learn some new skill, take up some activity, anything that even vaguely interests you - you might be able to make saleable things or learn a marketable skill, you might meet people who can help you, you might be able to refresh and renew your sense of joy and worth in life and help yourself with that "attitude" thing.

Maybe society will be fixed and incidentally to that you will be rescued and your problems solved. However, this will be done by people whose burning desire in life is to fix society and rescue people and solve their problems, not by people who sit around bemoaning their fates. One of my favourite quotes is Karl Marx's "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". What would happen if you took that seriously? If you seriously and sincerely and honestly assessed your abilities (not just what you want to do, or feel you have to do, or are doing right now, but your real, actual abilities, which are many and vast) and your needs (not just your wants, and your short-term need for money, but your social, intellectual, spiritual, physical and emotional needs)? Marx believed that people living in such a manner would create utopia. They would, at a minimum, know who they are and what they should do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reasons corporate HR discourages "nepotism" are that the wrong people are hired for the wrong reasons.

That may be why a corporation acts the way it does.

But I don't want the morals of my world defined by the actions of psychopathic corporations.

Network based hiring is wrong because it perpetuates priviledge and locks out unpriviledged people. It is a barrier to good jobs for competent people who don't know the right people or people who own businesses.

This is wrong.
posted by jb at 2:03 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this is you, try something else. Work out who you really are and find something to do that will make that person happy. Take jobs as stepping stones, as opportunities to meet people. And learn skills.

What really makes me happy is sitting at home reading a novel, or playing boardgames with my friends.

Oh, no one is going to pay me to do that?

This whole "do what makes you happy" is nonsense propagated by people who just happen to be lucky to like to work at what they work at. And it also leads to too many people fighting over those few jobs that actually are fun and rewarding.

The reality is that the vast majority of the population have no choice but to do difficult, boring, repeditive, unpleasant work. If they are lucky, they won't get injured or otherwise disabled by their work (as two different friends of mine have).

And if they are lucky, their work will pay them enough that they can have a decent standard of living, so that they can feed and house their children and have some leisure time to enjoy the only time that most people get to enjoy - time off with their family and friends.
posted by jb at 2:16 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are some kinds of job that do not, in the course of ordinary work, require you to meet anyone new, find out who to ask about something, or report to someone you don't actually work with. These jobs legitimately don't require any skill with networking. Data entry comes to mind. Also warehouse and janitorial work. These jobs are not prestigious, I think, largely because they do not require you to network, and therefore, to make yourself known. They are underpaid, partly because of America's very convenient quasi-legal immigrant labor force, and partly because their networking-free nature makes it easy for workers to move about; hence, they are usually temporary workers, employed through temp agencies.

If your position is that it's unfair that this class of worker is treated so poorly, I strongly agree. I think it would be better if the temp industry were socialized; if no individual corporation can be persuaded to pay a lot of money for this type of worker (often incorrectly called "unskilled labor") then it's better to use the same cost-sharing approach that pays for things that are currently considered public works, like bridges and plumbing. Admittedly, government jobs aren't necessarily well paid or administered, but they are at least more reliable than temp work, and the other problems may be addressed by the public rather than just the shareholders.

If your position is that it's basically wrong to require a person to network in order to get any job, then I don't agree. Networking within the organization you are trying to get employed in is a highly relevant skill. It's impractical to test for this skill in an interview, so hiring managers do the same thing as for every other skill: they look for people who have already demonstrated it. In this case, maybe you haven't got the demonstration on your resume, but you've done it where the manager can actually see it, which is arguably better.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:28 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I do think that it is morally wrong to require people to network to get any job - unless that job is essentially as a professional networker. Definitely at entry-level, but also often at higher levels.

Let's say you have someone who graduated as the top of their class in university - but who is the first person in their family to go to university. Everyone they know is either a professor, a student, or works in a factory or warehouse pr store. If networking is required to get any entry-level job, then you are saying that this person has two choices in life: network to get into graduate school (the industry of their professor aquaintances) or network to get a job in a factory or shop.

We already live in a world of increasing inequality. We don't need to add barriers to social mobility as well.

As for not-quite-entry level: let's say our subject does attend graduate school, as it was their only option to a better paying job. But they leave with a masters because that wasn't the right place for them. In a world with no open applications for positions that utilize their not inconsiderable skills and talents, again they are faced with working in the same field as their family.

Moreover, these skills may have nothing to do with networking, and the positions that would suit them may require little or no networking - or networking may be less important than other skills. I know brilliant mathematicians and programmers who are pathologically shy; their inability to talk to strangers does not inhibit their programming skills whatsoever. Similarly with bookkeepers, administrative assistants, data analysts -- all of these positions call for careful, meticulous people who may or may not be good with networking. In fact, it could be detrimental to your organization if you end up hiring the administrative assistant or bookkeeper who is personable but who couldn't organize a cutlery drawer or who doesn't believe in checklists.

I actually happen to believe that social mobility is not as important as reducing inequality (after Michael Young, The Rise of the Meritocracy), because even someone working at the least prestigious position deserves the chance to earn a good living - and myths of social mobility are often used to undermine criticisms of inequality. But adding yet more barriers social mobility (including sideways mobility between industries) is also wrong.
posted by jb at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2012


Amen, jb.

Another mechanism of class division: unpaid internships are used to filter out kids who can't sponge off their parents for six months to a year, building up the social contacts needed to make it in certain industries. It is already illegal, but because the law assumed the intern would be the aggrieved party (rather than their peers), nothing is done about it.
posted by phrontist at 9:32 AM on April 1, 2012


No, actually, networking through your co-students and professors to get a job right out of undergrad is quite common. I guess this might be different in some fields?
posted by LogicalDash at 9:41 AM on April 1, 2012


And if you don't think that secretarial work is something that demands networking ability, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, because making your boss's schedule line up with everybody else's is in my opinion a task consisting mostly of networking that happens not to usually take place in-person.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:48 AM on April 1, 2012


My professors had no connection to any industry except their academic field; I did network through friends, but that's why I said I benefitted from nepotism/networking. I was lucky enough to have an upper-middle class friend, whose mother's organization was looking for someone.

But if I hadn't had one upper-middle class friend? Everyone else I know works at very low status professions, or is an academic with no industry connections (not uncommon in the humanities or social sciences).

And scheduling is not networking. Scheduling requires a very cool, professional manner that does not involve pleasing anyone or impressing anyone. They don't need to remember you; you don't need to remember them.
posted by jb at 8:37 PM on April 1, 2012


Also, have you been an administrative assistant? Scheduling is a very small part of the job.
posted by jb at 8:39 PM on April 1, 2012


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